Gov. Scott Walker visited Janesville on Tuesday and suggested he might take his opposition to President Donald Trump’s proposed tariffs to another level if Trump won’t change his course.
Walker reiterated his stance against Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs, which the governor first described during a visit to Janesville’s United Alloy on Friday.
Tuesday, Walker was at Seneca Foods, which employs 400 people year-round at its Janesville food-packaging plant that uses tin-plated steel cans.
Walker said he “respectfully” wants Trump to change his mind on tariffs. At a minimum, Walker would want tariffs that don’t include tin-plated steel or ultra-thin aluminum, both used by Wisconsin companies.
Barring that, would Walker support congressional action to block the tariffs?
“We’ll have to look at other options,” Walker said.
Rep. Paul Ryan, who as speaker of the House is in a good position to pressure the president and/or push for legislation to thwart Trump’s proposal, also opposes the tariffs as proposed—25 percent on steel, 10 percent on aluminum—and prefers targeting specific bad actors.
“The smarter way to go is to make it more surgical and more targeted,” Ryan said Tuesday.
Ryan said that in multiple conversations, congressional Republicans have strongly urged Trump to go after “true abusers” in a way that avoided “unintended consequences and collateral damage.”
Ryan’s office would not say whether he would back congressional action if Trump does not relent.
Sen. Ron Johnson, like fellow Republicans Walker and Ryan, has also signaled opposition to the Trump tariff proposal.
Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin said she wants more information before declaring her position.
“I want to know all the details of the administration’s final order before I make my judgment,” she said in an email to The Gazette. “I support targeted trade action and sending a strong message to bad actors, like Russia and China. But I am concerned that blanket tariffs could start a trade war with our allies, including Canada, that will hurt Wisconsin manufacturers and our agriculture economy.
“I would like to see us focus on putting in place strong buy-American standards to support American steel and take on China’s cheating. They are not playing by the rules on steel, aluminum and paper,” Baldwin continued, noting Wisconsin is the nation’s leading paper producer.
Baldwin went on to say Trump should target China’s “cheating” in paper production, which she said has led to U.S. layoffs. Walker did not address paper imports.
The Trump administration has argued the tariffs are a matter of national security, but Walker said he has heard of no national security issues with tin-plated steel or ultra-thin aluminum. Neenah-based package-maker Bemis, another large state employer, uses both those materials in its business, Walker said.
Walker said U.S. manufacturers can’t keep up with demand for either of these products, so they must use foreign suppliers. Tariffs would greatly increase costs.
Seneca—the last American food processor that makes its own cans, Walker noted—spends about $100 million a year to make its so-called tin cans. A 25 percent tariff on imported steel would cost Seneca’s U.S. operations $25 million more per year, Walker said.
That’s a lot of money, considering Seneca’s profit last year was much less, around $12 million, Walker said.
The tariffs could also lead to Wisconsin job losses if manufacturers move to Canada, where they could operate without tariffs, Walker said.
Seneca runs nine other plants across the state for a total workforce of 1,200.
Seneca’s Paul Palmby, chief operating officer, said Seneca has lobbied against a tariff on steel for about a year and appreciates the governor’s leadership on the issue.
Walker said he spoke with the administration “quietly” since July and thought “we were in a pretty good place on this” until Trump’s announcement Thursday.
Material from the Los Angeles Times was used in this report.